Vendée Globe — what sailors tell us about simplicity, achievement, and meaningful life

For a long time I thought that sailing was one of the silliest hobbies / sports ever : way too dangerous for the benefits it provides. I remember the tragic disappearing and death of the skipper Gerry Roufs back in 1995–1996 during the Vendée Globe. I also remember the death of Eric Tabarly a while ago. And at the time I was just thinking that those guys would certainly still be alive if they had chosen a less risky lifestyle.

This was until four years ago, when I really got interested into the last Vendée Globe, and the fascinating rivalry between Armel Le Cléac’h and François Gabart during the 78 days of this race around the world. Thanks to the magic of technology, we were able (for the first time in such a race) to watch daily videos of the contenders giving their impressions, sharing their difficulties, their feelings, doubts etc. And this made me discover an new dimension of the sailing, and uncovered for me the beauty of the solitary effort of the man against the sea.

And this year here I am — one of the most diligent followers of this year’s Vendée Globe, watching ranking updates every three hours, watching all the videos, monitoring progress of all boats on the map, commenting on the facebook page etc. I have to admit it: even if I know nothing about sailing, I am absolutely fascinated by this sport, and particularly by this incredible race — the Vendée Globe (around the world, alone, no stop, no assistance).

Even myself I have wondered why I’ve developed such an interest for the Vendée Globe, as this has been a very subconscious process. And this was not entirely clear until I watched this video (sorry this is in French):

In substance, the amateur skipper Eric Bellion shows a superman toy he’s got on his boat, explaining that this toy is here to remind him that he’s not superman, and therefore should not behave as he was, otherwise the sea will bring him back to reality. And then he explains how being on sea is just a pure moment of experiencing the reality for a man. How on the sea there is no place for hatred or for angelism, for superficial and useless stuff. On the sea, there is just the man and his boat, and the man is just focused on directing his boat and going back home safely.

This little improvised speech by Eric Bellion has been so enlightening for me, and made me understand why sailing was actually fascinating me (and why I used to have it all wrong). Despite the danger, despite the “purpose” of just winning a race or beat a record, sailing is one of those ultimate “back to reality” experiences. It puts the man in a situation of fine balance between control (over his ship, and therefore his survival) and destiny (you never know what’s gonna happen). By acknowledging the fact that anything can happen on the sea (even death), the sailor makes sailing the “ultimate” living experience. And when you look at it from this perspective, it all makes sense that sailing is kind of a “need”, a sort of “addiction” for sailors, who are always keen to get this very human part of themselves exposed during this very extreme race.

It is even more meaningful in the light of the type of life we live in modern societies: very virtual, very technological, full of the non-essential. The overload of information we face, the consumption addiction we have, all of this contributes to put us away from the essence of life. We don’t really live because the deeper part of our existence has been spoiled by consumption, entertainment and distraction. There is no space left for self-consciousness, so we don’t really face the reality of our human condition. And from this perspective, sailing is a bit of an act of resistance.

Sailors of the Vendée Globe give us an incredible lesson of life, by risking their own lives in the most dangerous seas and oceans of the world. They show us that true accomplishment is achieved through self-reliance (they don’t expect anything from others, but expect a lot from themselves), and through trusting their boats to bring them home. They don’t need anything else than their boats. And in this context, even the world is not too big for them.

I really encourage you to follow the Vendée Globe online — the website is both in French and in English:

Photo credit: Domaine de Drogant via / CC BY

Originally published at The Home Geek Consultant.